Louisville’s defense expects to be shorthanded against Virginia on Saturday

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Brennan Armstrong (98) runs 34 yards to set up a field goal late in the first half in the 2018 game with Louisville.

Robert Anae has studied Louisville’s game video from the Cardinals loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago, but he’s not taking anything for granted.

Louisville was missing eight players on its defense in that game, three of them starters, including the Cardinals best player on that side of the ball in linebacker Monty Montgomery. All of those players were impacted in one way or another by the Covid-19 virus.

Still, after falling behind 21-0, Louisville came back and made Virginia Tech sweat out a 42-35 victory.

Since then, the Cardinals had to postpone their game with Virginia, which was scheduled last weekend. The Cavaliers and Cardinals will give it another try this Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, and it looks like there’s going to be a game even though Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said that he’s expecting to be shorthanded yet again.

“I think we’re going to be pretty much the same, which is shorthanded, particularly up front,” Satterfield said this week. “As you look back to Virginia Tech, with five defensive linemen, obviously we’re now preparing for that, but there are going to be guys that have not played very much there up front that may have to get reps. We’ll see how the game goes.”

Louisville is undergoing four Covid tests this week after putting its program on pause last week when 22 players or staff either tested positive or were linked to those who were via contact tracing. The Cardinals started practicing again last Sunday night after no one tested positive in the latest round of testing.

Still, some of the team may not be able to play against Virginia due to the ACC’s policy that reads if a player has tested positive, they must isolate for 10 days. Also, any player identified through contact tracing must complete a full 14-day quarantine.

While Montgomery, possibly Louisville’s best defensive player, is reportedly back and expected to play, the Cardinals are putting together a game plan for the Cavaliers without some of their top players on that side of the ball.

Anae pointed out that even though Louisville was missing eight players against Virginia Tech, that the Cardinals came back against the Hokies and played well.

“The one thing we’ve done is just go with the flow and try to figure out who will be with us, getting guys ready that are available and just hoping some of these guys are able to come back from quarantine,” said Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown.

For that Virginia Tech game, the Cardinals had only five scholarship defensive linemen.

Whatever defense Louisville musters up, it will place emphasis on shutting down Virginia on first and second downs, so that the Cavaliers will be facing third-and-long. UVA is next-to-last in the 15-team ACC in third down conversions at 30 percent.

A lot of the pressure to convert those third down situations will be on the shoulders of Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong.

Armstrong is reportedly healthy for Saturday’s game after getting nicked up on the next-to-last series of UVA’s upset win over then-15th ranked North Carolina three weeks ago. Anae said that Armstrong took advantage of an unexpected extra week of recovery time due to last week’s postponed game with Louisville, and has been back running practice.

It will be important for Armstrong to convert third downs and keep Louisville’s potent offense on the sideline. The Cardinals, behind dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham, put up 548 yards of total offense against Virginia Tech two weeks ago.